Wednesday, May 7, 2008


NEW YORK - MAY 01: Jaromir Jagr #68 of the New York Ranger acknowledges the crowd after being named the second star after his team defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 1, 2008 in New York City. The Penguins lead the series 3-1. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)I haven't really read everything concerning Jaromir Jagr and his possible departure from the New York Rangers and/or the NHL for greener European pastures, and have long ago stopped trying to extract any worthwhile information out of the New York Post, Daily "Avery's Heart Stopped" News, or The New York "Hired A Woman As The Team's Beat Reporter" Times. Currently, everyone in the Metro Area seems to be split as to whether or not he should return next season, a decision complicated by his fiery intensity and regained scoring touch during the series against the Penguins. While his decision to hint at his desire to leave during the playoffs is questionable, it simply underlies just how much he is misunderstood. As for his future endeavors I will merely say this: if you love Jagr, set him free.

Starting his career under Super Mario's wing, he thrived; however, when he became the main focus in Washington and forced to carry the team, he struggled. During his tenure as a Ranger, the veteran winger has done everything he could possibly do for the team, short of a legitimate Cup run. But in the biggest media market in the US, that's never enough. From the day he was named captain of this current squad he has been skating in the shadow of Mark Messier, a player who raised the bar for what a team leader exemplified. While he has the talent and the poise, I just don't think Jagr has the personality to match (and honestly, very few players do). While he is undoubtedly respected as a team leader by his teammates and coaches and vice versa, the media and fans have different (and unfairly inflated) expectations of him. Sorry to break it to you, but the definition of "captain" is not someone who makes wild proclamations like guarantee a win (and score two goals in the process), and wins the Cup every year simply due to his magnanimous nature.

Over the past few seasons, people have pointed to his recent unwillingness to shoot the puck, and his inability to score in the shootout (and dislike of it as well, which I agree with). I think this is a result of the massive pressure he's under in New York; here, if you don't score every nearly time you take a shot, especially in the shootout or in a clutch situation, your playing ability will be analyzed and questioned ad nauseum. While he proved he could still score, he began to play more unselfishly and tried to help his team by setting up his teammates, which was construed as a lack of confidence. Everyone seemed to expect the 35 year old, still a dangerous but no longer dominant offensive threat, to play like the freewheeling 25 year old he once was. There's really no way he can win in this kind of atmosphere.

Deep down, I believe that Jagr is simply not happy here, both professionally and personally. Additionally, he's not married and all of his friends and family live in Europe, which has to be a constant drain on him. All he wants to do is play hockey, and he probably feels that his current situation doesn't allow him to do so on his terms. Some might even argue that the current state of play in the NHL, with opposing players allowed to constantly shadow and harass at will, and minor penalties being called seemingly at random, doesn't fit his definition of 'playing hockey'. So while he may garner a lot of attention in Omsk or wherever he decides to play next year, he won't be under the biggest microscope in the world where he is expected to be his new team's saviour. If he decides to turn down offers to continue playing in the NHL, I can't say that I blame him.

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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